China has used its economic clout to prevent Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) members from backing the Philippines which is a founding member of the now economic bloc, in the arbitration process with a United Nations body at The Hague.
The Philippines has filed the arbitration case defying China's wish for a bilateral negotiations over the disputed areas in South China Sea.
Japan's Kyodo News Agency said China has warned the Asean not to issue any statement on the Philippines-initiated arbitration at The Hague, which Kyodo citing Asean diplomatic sources said was a move apparently aimed at preventing Asean from backing any judgment in favor of the Philippines.
China's Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin made the comment at a regular meeting between Chinese and Asean officials in Singapore to discuss the territorial disputes in the sea, which he co-chaired with Singapore's Foreign Ministry Permanent Secretary Chee Wee Kiong.
Liu claimed during the meeting that it would be a "risky move" for Asean to issue any statement on the case and China would "object" to it, Kyodo's source said.
The Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague is expected to make a final decision on the case in the next few months.
Liu reiterated that China's position is not to accept the arbitration, which it regards as a move against China by outside powers - a reference to the United States and Japan. Any relation with outside powers should not be at the cost of Asean -China ties, he said.
Three other Aseam members, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, are also claimants in the South China Sea dispute.
"The main thing China wants from this sneior officials meeting (SOM) is a lack of Asean consensus on an Asean statement on the outcome of the arbitration tribunal in The Hague," explained an Asean diplomat.
At the meeting, Liu also assured Asean that China's construction activities in the Nansha or Spratly Islands in the South China Sea is not for military purposes, but rather for civilian use, including combating piracy and to help ships navigate, the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
The Chinese delegation aslo circulated a joint statement at the meeting, which Beijing had drafted in the hope that the foreign ministers of China and Asean can issue it at an upcoming meeting to be held in July in Vientiane, Laos, on the sideline of the annual meeting of Aseanforeign ministers and related meetings.
The draft statement emphasizes the importance of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, which Asean and China signed in 2002, followed up in 2011 with the adoption of guidelines to implement the declaration.
At a news conference after that meeting, Liu emphasized the importance of the declaration and the resolution of the dispute by negotiation, as opposed to arbitration.
He defended China's recent four-point consensus with three Asean countries on the South China Sea territorial dispute, which has attracted criticism from some Asean officials as an attempt to split the 10-member regional bloc on the issue.
According to a posting on China's Foreign Ministry website last month, Foreign Minister Wang Yi recently reached the four-point consensus with the governments of Brunei, Cambodia and Laos on how to approach the South China Sea issue. The consensus claims the disputes are not an issue between China and Asean as a whole, and they should only be resolved through dialogue and consultation by parties directly concerned.
As a result of the four-point consensus that China said it has already agreed on with the three Asean countries, "the other Asean countries would not (be able to) take a decisive stand...there will be no consensus for Asean to go forward on South China Sea issues," said the Asean diplomat.
Japan leases aicraft
Japan will lease military aircraft to the Philippines in another sign of deepening security ties between the two former foes to counter Beijing's increasing regional influence.
The agreement was made yesterday afternoon during telephone talks between Japan's Defense Minister Gen Nakatani and his Philippine counterpart Voltaire Gazmin, the ministry said.
Tensions in the South China Sea, through which one third of the world's oil passes, have mounted in recent years since China transformed contested reefs into artificial islands capable of supporting military facilities.
Under the accord, Tokyo will lease up to five TC-90 training airplanes and help Manila train pilots and aircraft mechanics, the ministry said. The planes can be used as surveillance aircraft, according to local media.
It will be Japan's first lease of its Self-Defense Forces' aircraft to another country after it recently lifted a self-imposed ban on weapons exports.
"We agreed that it is important for all the countries in the region to strengthen cooperation in order to maintain peace and stability of the South China Sea," Nakatani told reporters.
"We believe that improving the Philippines' capability will lead to stability in the region," he added.
The TC-90 is capable of flying some 1,900 kilometers, roughly double the flight range of the Philippine navy's aircraft, Kyodo News said.
The Philippines has been seeking to strengthen ties with Japan, its former World War II rival, as tensions mount over disputed South China Sea waters, almost all of which are claimed by China. The southeast Asian country has a severely under-equipped military.
Aside from the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan also have overlapping claims to the contested waterway.
Japan has its own dispute with China in the East China Sea over uninhabited islands that it administers but that are also claimed by Beijing.
A Japanese warship last month sailed into a Philippine port near disputed South China Sea waters while Tokyo agreed in February to supply Manila with military hardware, which may include anti-submarine reconnaissance aircraft and radar technology.
In a statement, the Department of National Defense (DND) said Gazmin and Nakatani spoke at around 4 p.m. yesterday with the Japanese defense chief expressing appreciation despite the cancellation of his scheduled visit to the Philippines last month.
"Minister Nakatani reaffirmed the transfer of the Maritime Self-Defense Force TC 90 Aircraft which will be useful for HADR (humanitarian assistance and disaster response) and maritime security," DND public affairs director Arsenio Andolong said in the statement.
Nakatani's visit to Manila was postponed following the strong earthquakes that hit Kyushu in Japan.
During their conversation, Andolong said the defense chiefs agreed that bilateral cooperation "is indispensable and discussed how to enhance relations by strengthening communications, deepening exchanges and educational opportunities."
"Both parties reiterated their commitment to work together, with Minister Nakatani expressing that the two countries' bilateral relationship is crucial for peace, stability and prosperity, not only of the two countries, but of the region as well," Andolong added.
In March, Gazmin said the rental of TC-90 training aircraft from Japan for maritime patrol operations in the country would have to go through processes before the military could avail their services.
"The lease, it would still have to go through discussions. It was a general topic that we would have (TC-90). As to how, the mechanics on how to acquire them, this will be discussed in another forum," he said.
It was President Aquino who disclosed in March that the country will be leasing five TC-90s from the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Forces for its patrol of its territory, particularly West Philippine Sea.
The TC-90 is based on the commercial, twin-turboprop engine C-90 utility aircraft made by American company Beechcraft. The C-90 is officially known as King Air. Japan's military is using it as a training aircraft with unique locally made avionics.
The TC-90 is similar to F-27 Fokker that the Philippine Navy has used in its maritime patrol operations when it comes to speed and range, but it is smaller and lighter, using less powerful engines which translates to lower operating cost.
Source: The Daily Tribune